Ron’s Gone Wrong Co-Writers Sarah Smith And Peter Baynham Animate The Future – Exclusive Interview
2020 was a trying time for people everywhere. Due to COVID-19, the world went into lockdown, and people were instructed not to meet up with their families and friends. We were separated, and all we could do was remain in our homes for as long as possible with our mountains of toilet paper. Fortunately, 2020 had no shortage of technology to keep us entertained. We could binge-watch “Tiger King” and talk about it with our friends on Twitter. We could film ourselves dancing and upload it to TikTok. We had managed to stay in touch with one another, and through the process, we were reminded of the true value of friendship.
While the virus is still out there, restrictions have begun to ease, and now that people can gather in movie theaters once more, they can enjoy the splendid wonder of “Ron’s Gone Wrong.” It’s a movie about Barney (Jack Dylan Grazer), who feels left out in his class because he doesn’t own a B-bot — until one day, a miracle happens and he gets one (albeit a malfunctioning one) of his own. The two go on all sorts of wacky misadventures, and in the process, Barney learns what it truly means to have a friend.
It’s a heartwarming tale, and it couldn’t come at a better time as America comes out of its pandemic slumber, ready to re-experience everything the world holds. Looper had the chance to speak with co-director/co-writer Sarah Smith and co-writer Peter Baynham about “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” and what it was like to make the movie during such an unprecedented time.
On their personal use of technology
What’s it like in the lead up to the release of “Ron’s Gone Wrong”? How are you feeling?
Sarah Smith: It’s surreal — this movie has taken longer than anything I’ve ever done, because, you know, the pandemic got in the way. It was supposed to be released a year ago. And so finally thinking of it out in the world, it’s amazing because this is the moment that I love as a filmmaker, when you connect to the audience at the other end, and particularly kids.
Absolutely. So since this is a movie that has to do a lot with technology, I was just curious, how often do you think you two spend on your phone each day?
Peter Baynham: Way too much.
Sarah Smith: Well, my phone tells me now, doesn’t yours? It feels like being told on.
Peter Baynham: Screen reports.
Sarah Smith: Nobody wants that. It makes you feel so ashamed.
Peter Baynham: I don’t know. I sometimes set them up purposely and then I go, “I don’t want to know. I’m getting rid of that.”
Sarah Smith: Several hours. It’s the answer to that.
Peter Baynham: Yeah.
Designing the B-bots
If B-Bots were real, which features do you think you both would enjoy the most?
Sarah Smith: Do you know what? I was thinking about it earlier, and I was thinking it would be a B-bot that couldn’t talk. Otherwise, I feel like it’s having another child in the house. It’s just talking back to you. I’d love for it to be able to take my dog for a walk.
Peter Baynham: I’d like to have it actually … I lived in L.A., but I’m here now in London for this. And I’d love it if it did like my wife and said, “Take a deep breath. Your keys are on the desk and it’s going to be okay.” Because I’m kind of a stress-y guy. So yeah, those qualities that just calm me down.
Sarah Smith: Yeah, now I think about it, if it could basically clean the house, do the washing, sort out the meals.
Peter Baynham: Play spa music.
Sarah Smith: Get your massage when …
Peter Baynham: On command, it just knows when you need some spa music.
Sarah Smith: I think we want quite adult B-bots.
Peter Baynham: And tells me jokes.
Did the design of the B-Bots change throughout the process, or was it pretty set in stone from the beginning?
Sarah Smith: Well, I think the brief that for me, my kind of theory of it always was to take an iPad and turn it into an animated character. And when I kind of explained this idea, I did what you usually do at the very beginning — I rang a few of my animation design friends, ranging from people that do character design through to a brilliant German artist called Till [Nowak], who actually is probably the guy who would design it in the real world.
Peter Baynham: He designed Wakanda in “Black Panther.”
Sarah Smith: And we also spoke to companies like Sparrow, who made BBH. And so we talked to all different types of people, but we were leaning into that kind of Apple aesthetic and then combining that with some of the charm of the shape of it and so on. So it was a lot of influences. We knew that it had to be a 360-degree screen. And it was really from that, it developed from that pill-shaped thing. And it was really all about the detail to make it feel real and sophisticated.
Peter Baynham: You wanted it to feel like something new, that it could exist in like one or two years. You wanted it to feel like now, rather than in the future.
Working on Ron's Gone Wrong during the pandemic
You kind of touched on this earlier, but what was the most challenging aspect of working on this film during the pandemic?
Peter Baynham: Making this film during the pandemic.
Sarah Smith: I mean, it was the fact that usually when you have a community of filmmakers together — the animators, the artists — everybody sees each other’s work and gives each other ideas. And when everybody is separated in their rooms, it puts an enormous amount of stress on me and [Jean-Philippe Vine] directing to actually communicate every idea to everybody. You’re saying to the animator, “Go look at this thing that somebody else did.”
You don’t get for free that lovely lift off of sharing of ideas that you get when people are in the same room. And I used to feel sometimes it was like making a movie that was playing on an iPhone in a toilet cubicle, three cubicles away. Because I never felt I could quite see or hear it properly while we were doing that
What kind of message do you hope audiences take away from “Ron’s Gone Wrong”?
Peter Baynham: We’re not really trying to put out one particular simple message. We’re exploring some themes, I think. And so there’s obviously the comedy, we just lead … we’re big into comedy. We’re just really into writing comedy. And so we’re trying to reflect the frustration with tech that everyone feels.
If I get a printer and it doesn’t work, I want to throw it out the window. Ron’s a little bit like that with legs. That and the Microsoft paperclip guy, but also, obviously, hopefully very lovable. But then also it’s like exploring social media, because we’re all on it, adults, kids. And there’s good things about it, and there’s scary things about it. And we just wanted to lean into that and explore that.
Sarah Smith: I think I hope that what people take away is the joy of an un-curated friendship. Of a friendship when you are your kind of real self and that you might meet someone crazy, out of control, completely different from you. And then maybe the richest and most joyous relationships, that’s where they come from.
That’s what I loved about the film so much, especially kind of coming out of the pandemic and kind of recognizing the need for those genuine friendships.
Peter Baynham: The weird thing with it was, by the way, is that we had the whole idea of “you must stay within six feet of me.” That’s one of the B-bot rules. And of course it came out and then there was this whole giant “six feet” all across America. Like, “Ooh, it looks prescient all of a sudden!”
On upcoming projects
Can you tell us about any projects you have coming up?
Sarah Smith: Well, we had — Peter and I — of course, because we can’t ever stop our brains working, we’re talking about two animation ideas at the moment, one which would be another family one, and one which would be adult, combining our more kind of edgy comedy past within the animation genre.
Peter Baynham: And I’m developing another live-action thing, which has actually taken as long as this. So you know, it all takes a long time.
Will any of these be with Locksmith, or are you going elsewhere?
Sarah Smith: I don’t know. I mean, maybe not, probably not adult animation. I think the joy really now is that there’s a huge capacity now within London for making high-end animation. So there are lots and lots of possibilities.
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” opens exclusively in theaters on October 22.